During Jacie Duranso’s freshman year on the softball team, she tried pitching a few times but didn’t feel she was ready to be a day-to-day pitcher.
Coach Dean Parris said that she had the makings of a good pitcher, but respected her wishes on not taking the mound.
“She’s played third base, short stop and second base for me, and she’s done well,” Parris said.
After Lakeland’s collective struggles on the mound throughout the early part of the season, Duranso, now a senior, made a decision only a team player could make.
“She came up to me and said the team needed her and she was willing to give it a try,” Parris said. “That is the most selfless thing I have seen a girl do. Then again, she is one of our captains, for good reason.”
She took to the mound for the first time last week, and has managed to do pretty well.
“I told her just get it over the plate and let us help you in the field,” Parris said.
And while there was no sudden improvement in the team’s overall fortunes, the opponent’s run totals declined as the walks went down. Opponents suddenly had to start taking their bats off their shoulders at the plate because the days of walking in a bunch of runs was over.
But sometimes being a leader means leading by example. Leading 5-1 going into the bottom of the fourth inning Monday night against Ironwood, Duranso came to the plate.
“Jacie is the one girl who I don’t have to coach on hitting,” Parris said. “She is a very consistant batter.”
That Duranso ripped a two-run home run in that bottom of the fourth inning plate appearance – her first ever according to Parris – was just another case of her doing what she could to help her team.
Going into the fifth inning with a 7-1 lead had to feel good on the mound. But just like that, the Red Devils roared back like good teams are want to do. They tapped Duranso for four runs, taking advantage of a few uncertain pitches that led to balls hit where the defense wasn’t.
After finally getting the last out, the T-Birds had seen the lead fall to two runs. Even worse, the T-Bird bats could only hit the ball right at Ironwood players for easy outs.
And even though she had struggled the previous inning, Duranso did what all good players do; she reached down to that place you go to when you are athletically out of gas, yet the contest isn’t over.
She found a way to get the ball over the plate for two more Ironwood series of at bats and trusted that her team would back her up with their gloves.
And they did. Not one, two, three like in a Hollywood movie, but enough to not allow any more runs.
So when Duranso uncorked that one ball, no strike pitch in the top of the seventh inning that was drilled right to shortstop while an Ironwood runner on second left early, resulting in a double play, the game was over.
Her two-run dinger proved to be the game winner, too.
In fact, it was the first win of the season, period, for the Thunderbirds.
Duranso had taken the Thunderbirds to where they had only gone one time all of last season, a “W” in the scorebook.
“It couldn’t have happened to a nicer girl,” Parris said. “To be so unselfish yet, when the chips were down, to hang tough was inspirational for the whole team.”
With Duranso taking over the bulk of the single-game pitching, Parris and pitching coach Amy Harty have been working with Molly Cox on her pitching mechanics, and it has been paying off there.
“She cut her walks in half then in half again. Now if we can just cut it in half again,” Parris laughed.
How much Cox picked up yesterday from Duranso will be put to the test this afternoon when the Antigo Red Robins come in for a doubleheader starting at 4 p.m. When asked if he’d like to win two today, Parris chuckled.
“I’d like to win them all the rest of the way out,” he said.
Jamie Taylor may be reached at email@example.com.